Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In Praise of Libraries, Part 2: Pomegranate-Eggplant Spread and Red Lentil-Bulgur Salad

Because I feel that yesterday's post adequately conveyed my love for Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume: Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean and my satisfaction with all four things I've made from the book during its temporary stay in my home (it's due back at the library on Thursday), today I'm just going to give you the recipes.

The pomegranate-eggplant spread is just plain lovely. Best at room temp, it was excellent both slathered on some homemade bread and dolloped on top of the lentil-bulgur salad. I did not have aleppo pepper, called for in the recipe, but I substituted a mixture of cayenne and smoked paprika and it was great. I'd like to get my hands on aleppo pepper - they have it at Penzey's - because it's featured in quite a lot of the book's recipes. For whatever it's worth, my husband hates eggplant but went back for more of this. The flavor combination is truly something special.

Eggplant-pomegranate spread

The lentil-bulgur salad is actually not something you'd be able to track down in the actual cookbook. It's the (delicious) result of some koftes (fortunately) gone wrong. I just couldn't get the lentil-bulgur mixture to hold together. I suspect reader error rather than cookbook flaw. Regardless, the salad version - which we served room temp on a bed of fresh spinach - was delightful.

Red Lentil-Bulgur Salad

I'm sorry my pictures aren't especially appetizing. It was attractive in person; my photography skills just fail me sometimes.

Oh and a quick ingredient note: pomegranate molasses, used in both recipes, can be found at Mediterranean or Middle Eastern grocery stores, specialty grocery stores, and at least some co-ops (the Wedge, for one). There are also recipes for it online and in the cookbook raved about herein. (I used store-bought.) If you buy it and don't know what to do with the leftovers, mix it with equal parts lemon juice and olive oil, add a little salt and pepper, and you've got a lovely salad dressing. Za'atar is also available at certain ethnic and specialty grocery stores, but I made my own, based on a recipe from Purple Citrus (so I guess I've made FIVE recipes from this cookbook!), which is similar to the recipe found on Epicurious. It's nice on scrambled eggs.

Pomegranate-Eggplant Spread
Adapted from Eggplant, Aleppo Pepper and Pomegranate Spread recipe, p. 28
Yield: About 3 cups (I actually halved the recipe and got about 1.5 cups)

1 large eggplant (or 2 small)
3 tablespoons olive oil or sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large tomato (or 2 small), finely chopped
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
seeds from 1 small pomegranate
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
zest of 1/2 a lemon

Wash and trim the eggplant; halve the eggplant lengthwise and then slice thinly.

Heat oil in a saucepan (I used a 2 quart - worked well) and add the eggplant slices a few at a time, cooking them until golden brown (about 8 minutes). Stir in the spices and garlic. Add the chopped tomatoes and pomegranate molasses and simmer on low heat until the liquid is almost gone and the eggplant has broken up and become soft and spreadable (about 15-20 minutes). Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. Add the pomegranate seeds and cilantro to the cooled eggplant mixture, taste and add salt and pepper appropriately. Sprinkle with the lemon zest before serving. Serve at room temp or cold; it stays well in refrigerator for at least two days.

Red Lentil-Bulgur Salad
Adapted liberally/accidentally from the Red Lentil Kofte with Pomegranate and Cilantro Salad recipe, p. 30
Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil or sesame oil
1 onion, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon Za'atar
1 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 cup red lentils
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1/2 cup dry bulgur
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Heat the oil in a saucepan and heat the onion for 2-3 minutes, until just softened. Add the cumin, za'atar, paprika, and coriander, and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in the lengtils and then pour in the pomegranate molasses and 1 1/4 cups water. Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes. Add the bulgur, combine well, and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and allow bulgur to absorb any remaining moisture. Place mixture in a bowl to cool. Once cool, stir in the cilantro and tomato paste. Serve room temp, slightly warm, or cold, as is or on a bed of salad greens of choice. (I liked it best a little warm. It was extra special with a little of the eggplant dip dolloped on top.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

In Praise of Libraries, Part 1: Mediterranean Meatballs

One of my favorite food bloggers is Dana from Dana Treat. I like her not only because I have a special fondness for most Danas but also because her recipes are all manageable and delicious, she is prolific - seriously, when nobody else is blogging with appropriate frequency, Dana is - and, while I haven't yet had the nerve to tell her this myself, I totally think we are kindred spirits. We are both West Coasters. We were both drama majors in college. We both lived in London. We both have two children. We both are passionate about food and yoga and writing and we both are addicted to cookbooks. As of last month, we both teach cooking classes (woo-hoo!). Incidentally, and significantly in the food blogosphere, we differ in that she became a vegetarian while traveling in Europe in her early twenties, while I started eating meat while traveling in Europe in my early twenties. Nonetheless, I've been meaning to send her an email to tell her all the things we have in common, ask her for some guidance in a few areas (she's ahead of me in figuring stuff out and accomplishments and life generally), and invite her over for dinner next time she happens to be in the Twin Cities. But I don't do even a fraction of the things I mean to do most days, so that email is as of yet unwritten. If and when I do end up writing that email, I will have to specifically thank her for featuring on more than one recent occasion recipes from Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume, a beautiful, unique, and super inspiring cookbook by Bulgarian-born London chef Silvena Rowe. The recipes are Eastern Mediterranean (wow, I spelled that word wrong three times before getting it right) and they are both (a) absolutely delectable (despite the fact that they use several ingredients to which I am averse (lamb) or allergic (pistachios, cashews, walnuts)), and (b) vastly adaptable (important considering (a)).

Speaking of beautiful, unique, and inspiring: Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea and Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies. These are not new books. These are books that remind me why we should read old books. These are books that humble me deeply but also make me laugh. I digress.

Because of Dana's unwitting influence and a family compromise that involves no more cookbook purchases, I checked out Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume from the library a few weeks ago. It was doubly revelatory: (1) the book is, as mentioned above, fantastic, one I definitely want in my cookbook library at some point; (2) I am going to always check out cookbooks from the library now because it's a wonderful filtration device! I've since checked out three other cookbooks that would have been on my Amazon wishlist had I not skimmed them and learnt they are not worthy of my shelves. This is a wonderful way to dabble. And I'm kind of embarrassed about all that I'm writing right now because it's such a freaking given. You are all probably like, "yeah, I check out cookbooks from the library all the time." Well, I didn't until late October. Don't judge me. I've always been a slow developer.

When my mom visited recently, we put together a Mediterranean feast one Friday night. It was so so so so good. And so different, which was extra cool. I'm posting the "entree" recipe today, then two more recipes we made tomorrow, and the fourth one - which my mom made with no help from yours truly - deserves a post of its own, in which I will include some commentary on my mom's way of cooking versus my own and how the former really wins where aesthetics are concerned. Sometimes aesthetics are really important.

Anyway - recipe number one is below. My adaptations were of the sort I discuss in my Cooking Local Through Winter class: using preserved vegetables (the tomatoes) and herbs (the oregano) in place of fresh ones when they are not in season. (I also omitted olive oil from the sauce and used more meat than Ms. Rowe calls for.) These are so heavenly that I made them two nights in a row and ate the leftovers for lunch two days in a row. Enjoy!

And I don't care what Parks & Recreation says, libraries are the best!

Mediterranean Meatballs

Mediterranean Meatballs
Yield: 4 good-sized servings

For meatballs
1.5 oz bread (one slice)
1/3 cup milk
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley (I used curly)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt and pepper
Flour, for dusting meatballs
Olive oil, for browning meatballs

For tomato sauce
1 15-oz can whole tomatoes, with juice (or about 1.5-2 cups of tomatoes and juice from a larger can or jar)
1 tablespoon tomato paste*
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Soak the bread in the milk for a few minutes. Squeeze the excess milk from the bread and crumble it into a large bowl. Add the ground beef, ground pork, onion, garlic, parsley, egg, cumin, chili flakes, paprika, and oregano. Combine well (I just used my hands) and season with salt and pepper. Split the mixture into 12 equal amounts and form into balls. Dust each ball with a bit of flour.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a nonstick pan or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Cook the meatballs for about 5 minutes, rotating them periodically so that all sides brown. Transfer them into a small baking dish.

To make the sauce, mix together tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, paprika, and oregano. Season and cook over low heat, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, stirring constantly. Once the juice has reduced a bit (about 5-7 minutes), pour the sauce over the meatballs.

Bake for 20 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling. Serve hot.
* Not critical. I ran out on day 2 and didn't notice a difference in the finished product.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Overcoming internal conflict: Cranberry-Biscoff Upside Down Cake

Guess what I've got for you today, friends? I'll give you a hint: it's tart, speculoosy, and uber-festive. If you guessed Cranberry-Biscoff Upside Down Cake, you are right. You also have some amazing supernatural guessing powers.

Berry festive

I made Cranberry-Biscoff Upside Down Cake because maybe you bought that Biscoff spread to make granola... and maybe you need something to save you from yourself... a recipe with which to use the Biscoff spread so that it doesn't all end up in your mouth via spoon. I care about you. I'm here to help.

I was initially unsure about whether I should post this recipe for you because, as beautiful and festive as it turned out (see photo above), the first slice of it that I ate (the same day it was baked) was overwhelmingly tart. I think I'd forgotten what cranberries tasted like over the last year. Furthermore, I nibbled on a few crumbs of the cake before actually tasting the upside-down-cranberry part, and I was IN LOVE with its subtle spice and perfect texture. When I subsequently felt that the cranberries overpowered the lovely, delicate flavor of the cake, I thought I'd try making the cake without the cranberries, perhaps with a maple glaze or something to really showcase the Biscoff flavor. But then two things happened that, combined, motivated me to post about this cake:

1. I had another slice the next day. The cranberry topping had mellowed a bit and the cake flavor was holding its own better than it had on day 1.

2. I stumbled on a Smitten Kitchen post from about a year ago with (a) an upside-down cranberry cake recipe, and (b) reservations. S.K. Deb felt her cake lacked sufficient flavor to contrast the cranberriness of her cake. (I felt that no cake flavor could effectively contrast the flavor of cranberry.) She also was disappointed in her cake's appearance, and then searched the internet to find other cranberry upside-down cake photos to make sure hers wasn't subpar. (I thought my cake was stunning. And I searched the internet for comps as well.) If Deb can recommend an upside down cranberry cake recipe with two reservations, then I can recommend an upside down cranberry cake recipe with only one reservation - a reservation that was mostly moot after a day of mellowing out on the cake stand. The word "cake" is in the title of my website, after all. I have to deliver sometimes, don't I?

So here we are.

cranberry cake collage

Oh wait, three things happened:

3. We ate the whole cake in two days.

If you have any concerns about the cranberry domination that occurs when the following recipe is made - like, say, because you hate cranberries - just skip the cranberry part. The cake itself is unequivocally delicious. With a simple powdered sugar glaze with a little cinnamon and orange juice... dang. Next time! (And I'm not kidding. I totally have another jar of Biscoff in my pantry.)

finished. sliced. yum.

Here's the recipe.

Cranberry-Biscoff Upside Down Cake
Adapted (significantly) from Martha Stewart
Yield: 10 servings

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
16 ounces fresh or defrosted frozen cranberries
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons yellow cornmeal, preferably coarse
1/4 cup Biscoff spread
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

Generously butter and flour a 10-inch round springform pan; set aside. In a large skillet, heat 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat until it sizzles. Add cranberries, and cook until shiny, 2 to 3 minutes. Add maple syrup and cinnamon. Cook, stirring frequently, until cranberries soften, about 3 more minutes.

Remove cranberries from skillet with a slotted spoon, and transfer to a large plate to cool slightly. Set skillet with syrup aside. Once cooled, distribute the cranberries evenly in the prepared springform pan. Return skillet with syrup to medium heat, and cook until syrup boils, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour hot syrup over cranberries, and let cool while you prepare the cake batter.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cornmeal. in cornmeal with a fork.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the remaining 6 tablespoons butter and the Biscoff spread. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until well combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until creamy. Add egg yolks and then vanilla extract, beat until well combined. Add flour-cornmeal mixture in two batches, alternating with milk. Set aside.

Using a whisk attachment or a handheld beater, beat the egg whites in a clean bowl until foamy. Slowly add 2 tablespoons sugar; beat until soft peaks form. Whisk a third of the white into the batter, then fold the remaining whites in with a rubber spatula.

Spread batter over cranberries and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Place a baking sheet beneath the pan in case the cake overflows (mine didn't). Let cool in pan 2 hours before inverting cake onto a plate and carefully releasing spring. I found that running the flat side of a large sharp knife along the top of the cake to release the pan bottom worked well. It all stayed intact and, well, in my humble opinion was quite pretty.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bad Highlights, Good Cooking Classes (with a note at the end for my 11/18 class participants)

First things first: I am teaching my second cooking class tonight. Yay! I'm v. excited, nearly as nervous as last time, and sad that I have terrible accidental frosty highlights and less-than-best skin right now. Living in my little hole (condo) with little ones and little interaction with adults, I have little reason to worry about my appearance most of the time. In fact, I'm lucky to shower every third day. But this opportunity has challenged me. Standing in front of 21 super attentive, semi-hungry, eager-to-be-engaged-and-educated adults is different and nerve-wracking. Hair color is a statement. Shoes are a statement. Glasses are a statement. Blemishes are awkward. Everything matters when people are looking at you for three hours - and believe me, they are too polite not to look, we are Minnesotans after all! It's super flattering and super disconcerting all at once. I've been thinking about this a lot lately and have come to realize that if I intend to engage, entertain, educate, and - hope of all hopes - inspire people (over the age of two), which of course I do, I need to be precise about what my goals are and calculated in how I accomplish them. My anything-goes, super casual, somewhat chaotic approach to daily life is not going to cut it if I want to change the way people think about food and share my knowledge credibly. I want to be taken seriously; I believe my expertise is worth the cost of registration. I don't want bad highlights to be part of the equation. I don't want anything about my appearance to be a distraction. (Except maybe shoes. I would love to wear some rockin' shoes.) Tonight I'll put my hair back and hide the frost as best as I can, but before I teach my next class (and before I go to my husband's holiday work party, for that matter), I need to fix this. First impressions matter. Especially when you need respect and trust in order for you to (calculatedly) accomplish your (precise) goals. I imagine that each time I teach a class I will realize another thing about my manner or appearance or curriculum that will need to be adjusted. It's oddly invigorating. (Also odd is the fact that I'm way more preoccupied about this as a cooking instructor than I was sitting in a courtroom all day supporting a judge - perhaps because being presentable was a given then, plus I was never a focal point in the courtroom, except for maybe when I was nine months pregnant.)

Below is a list of classes I'll be teaching through February, in case you are either interested in learning how to cook and eat local food when it's at its best, or simply curious about my frosty highlights. All classes are at Local D'Lish, in the Warehouse District/North Loop Neighborhood just outside of downtown Minneapolis. Wednesday and Friday classes are in the evening; Sunday classes are in the afternoon. Call superstars Ann, Kate, or Erika at Local D'Lish for more info!

Nov. 18 (tonight!) and Nov. 27: Eating local through winter
Dec. 7: Root vegetables
Dec. 16: Vegetarian cooking through winter
Jan. 18: Cooking for the week
Jan. 25: Heartland hot dishes
Jan. 29: Healthy meals for kids
Feb. 22: Three great winter soups

I'll be teaching 4 classes per month starting in March 2012.

Here is what I looked like on my way to teach my first class, over a month ago. There's a gynormous food processor in my bag. (And yes I digitally whitened my teeth in this picture.)

Edith's First Day of Work

Here is what I've been making a lot lately in my own kitchen, incidentally the first thing I ever blogged about at Cake and Edith. This version included edamame and sprouted chickpeas. Delicious topped with some plain yogurt and a heavy douse of (decidedly nonlocal) Cholula. Yesterday I ate four of them. I eat a lot.

mom's visit 059

For those of you who attend(ed) my class: thanks so much for your participation! I hope you enjoyed yourselves and I'd love to hear about how your locavore aspirations go this winter! Thank you so much for waiting for that final quiche to cook up. Sorry about the bad highlights.

UPDATE 11/20/11: Also, following up on the after-class discussion about Minnesota's growing season (hi, hip silver-name-tagged mamas!), the document I referred to can be found HERE, on the St. Paul Farmer's Market website. It's a great visual aid, but note how our wacky weather can really change things however. Broccoli was still being harvested last week, in mid-November, for instance, and our roots and winter squash similarly had a later season due to our extended, warm fall.